Edinburgh Libraries does a Question and Answer session with local writer Ever Dundas, author of Goblin (published by Saraband).
What do libraries (including Edinburgh Libraries) mean to you as a reader, and as a writer? Are the meanings different?
I don’t earn much as a writer, which is how it is for many writers – we usually have to supplement our income with the full-time freelance hustle, or a full or part-time ‘day’ job, and fit writing around that. Unfortunately, I’m unable to do this as I have ME and fibromyalgia (I did have a part-time job, but had to give it up as I wasn’t coping and it was making me even more ill). Because of this, I can’t always afford to buy new books, so the library is an amazing resource. There’s something so very anti-capitalist about libraries (which is probably why they’re constantly under attack) – all these resources available to us for free.
It’s one of those rare buildings you can enter and know it doesn’t matter how much you earn. I’m able to get books to read for pleasure and books for research for my writing projects and I’m incredibly grateful for it.
As a writer, it’s an absolute joy to see my own book on the shelves in a building that means so much to me, and to know that people who might not earn much are able to access it. Also, I’m not sure if members of the public know about this, but there’s a scheme called Public Lending Right (PLR) where authors can register and they earn a few pence every time someone takes their book out, so you’re still helping authors financially via supporting your local library.
What is your earliest library memory?
The classroom library in my primary school. I remember picking up books by Nicholas Fisk (I was obsessed with space at the time, so I loved the Starstormers series). I also picked up A Box of Nothing by Peter Dickinson, which is still a firm favourite. If I could have skipped all lessons to sit in the corner reading, I would have.
Are you struggling to cope without a library? What advice would you give to those who love the library and can no longer go in?
I badly miss the library. It was a real comfort to me. I enjoyed the short walk through the bustling streets (which are now very eerie), and entering that huge, beautiful building always made me happy. I also loved when Hope was on shift – before I got to know her a bit better and learned she’s a writer too, she’d always cheer me with her greetings. The library staff are a big part of what makes the library the welcoming place it is and I really appreciate their skills and expertise.
I’m trying to use the library closure as an opportunity to get through my massive to-read piles at home. For anyone who doesn’t have a massive to-read pile, you can still get ebooks, audiobooks, magazines, and newspapers from the library, so it’s still a great resource. But I know a lot of people will be missing the physical library – it was a real haven.
A lot of people are struggling to read books right now. They have time, but they find their attention span shattered by the strange and frightening situation we’re in. What are you reading at the moment? What books would you recommend to those struggling to read?
I’m currently reading an academic book I got my paws on in the recent Palgrave sale – Gothic Animals: Uncanny Otherness and the Animal With-Out, edited by Ruth Heholt and Melissa Edmundson. It has a chapter by Timothy C Baker that looks at Companion Animals in Contemporary Scottish Women’s Gothic Fiction, focussing on my novel Goblin, Elspeth Barker’s O Caledonia, and Alice Thompson’s The Falconer. I haven’t yet read Thompson’s book, but since reading Barker’s I’m evangelical about it and it’s a real shame it’s out of print – it’s not available as an ebook, but when the libraries reopen I highly recommend getting a hold of it.
Ever’s to-read pile
I’m looking forward to reading the rest of Gothic Animals – especially the chapter on Patricia Highsmith and her snails (apparently she smuggled her pet snails in and out of the country in her bra, and she would take a bag of snails and a lettuce to social events – this makes me love her even more).
I’ve also been reading Planetarium, which is an utterly gorgeous book in the ‘Welcome to the Museum’ series. I’ve been losing myself in it before going to bed and finding it very soothing. It’s funny how feeling insignificant in the context of the solar system can be so comforting.
If you’re struggling to read, short stories might be easier to concentrate on. Or comics/graphic novels (I highly recommend everything by Charles Burns and Emil Ferris’ My Favourite Thing Is Monsters). Or now might be the time to try an audiobook if you’ve never done so before.
Are you able to write at the moment? Would you recommend writing as a way to get through this time? What are some gentle easy writing exercises that people can give themselves at this time?
I’ve been struggling a bit, to be honest, but that’s partly because I’ve been having one fibro & ME flare-up after another this past month. It’s mostly the flu-like exhaustion rather than the chronic pain, and it can be incredibly frustrating as it’s hard to get things done. But I’m doing OK at the moment, and I’m enjoying this interview – it’s giving me some space to reflect.
I had planned to write a diary, but I’ve been a bit scuppered by flare-ups, and I’ve been using the rest of my time to try and get some work-related things done. But I think externalising your feelings in that way can be very therapeutic, so I recommend it if you’re feeling stressed by current events.
How can we connect, as librarians, borrowers, readers and writers when the library is closed? Can social media be a replacement, or do we need more? How powerful is the written word right now?
I think social media and blogs are useful ways of connecting, although I’m aware that some people won’t have computers or online access and that the physical presence of the library offered that to many. I think current events shows how important and necessary internet access is, and that it’s not some out-there socialist utopia to provide it to everyone.
As someone who is disabled, I’ve talked a lot about making the world (and the publishing industry in particular) more accessible, so it’s been both wonderful and bittersweet to see so many things move online, when disabled people have been pushing for this for so long. I hope, when we come out the other side of this, accessibility will be taken more seriously – it’s not niche. It’s a human right. It’s sad that it’s taken something like this for ableds to realise that. Things can’t go back to ‘normal’ after this. The status quo isn’t good enough.
So I do think blogs and social media are important. Many disabled people find it can be a real lifeline for them, and I generally have no time for simplistic anti-social media sentiments – it’s ableist.
I think the written word is incredibly important right now – in terms of political activism, but also for escapism. I don’t think anyone should ever feel guilty for needing some escapism in times like this – if it can help get you through, that’s what matters. The arts saved me many times throughout my life.
With huge thanks to Ever and to Hope our #stayathome interviewer from Central Lending Library.